Thursday, 24 November 2011

Why do we care about agricultural emissions?

In 2007, agricultural emissions accounted for more than 48% of New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions (Ministry for the Environment, 2009) and 13.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions (IPCC, 2007c). The question of what response will effectively address these emissions is of critical importance to New Zealand and the world. However, ensuring that our response is effective requires us to first ask a different question: why do individuals, communities, companies and government in New Zealand care about agricultural emissions? A recent Motu note by Hugh McDonald and Suzi Kerr responds to this fundamental inquiry; it can be found online here. Its major conclusions are summarised below.

There are three non-mutually exclusive reasons New Zealanders may want to control agricultural emissions. We may be concerned about the impacts of climate change on New Zealand and the world. We might be motivated to control greenhouse gas emissions due to international pressure and opportunities from others based on their concern about climate change. This international pressure could be felt from two distinct sources: from international organisations and countries, or alternatively, in the form of commercial pressures and opportunities for domestic producers. A third motivation may be that we are interested in complementary goals that can be achieved by targeting agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, such as improving water quality or improving farm efficiency.

The motivations New Zealanders have for addressing agricultural emissions should determine the way that the emissions are addressed; that is, the why should determine the how. Depending on our motivation, we will require our responses to achieve different levels of verifiability or visibility, will have different priorities for technological change, and will focus more or less on communicating internationally. These dimensions are summarised in Table 1.

Table 1: Choosing appropriate responses given our motivations


Technology change:
External outreach:
Motivation One:
Avoid climate change
Needs to be visible and/or verifiable to the farmer.
Needs to be verifiable and visible to New Zealand regulators (if national policy).
Effort needs to be visible internationally to encourage others.
Mitigation technologies.
Some measurement and monitoring technologies.
Cooperate on mitigation development.
Share technologies and knowledge we develop.
Actively disseminate knowledge.

Motivation Two:
Meet international pressure
·    From countries or international organisations
Must be verifiable by international organisations.

Verifiable mitigation methods.

Demonstrate to international parties that we are meeting commitments.
·    From international consumers/markets
Must be visible to consumers.
Visible mitigation methods.
Marketing technologies.
Show effort that is convincing to international consumers.
Motivation Three:
Achieve complementary goals
Effect on complementary goals needs to be visible to communities of interest.
Technologies that positively affect our complementary goals.
None unless community of interest is international, e.g. Biodiversity.
When responding to agricultural emissions we also need to ensure that our response is robust to the many different possible futures. While we can control and influence some factors around this issue of agricultural emissions, we have little or no control over other factors , such as the seriousness of the climate problem in the future, the existence and stringency of any binding global agreement, the development of technologies for cheap and effective mitigation, and the global economy and agricultural prices. These will have a large influence on the actual outcome of any agricultural emissions response we make. We need to ensure that whatever responses we choose to make are robust to these many uncertainties; that is, our response will need to be flexible, scalable, effective and low cost.

Our discussion also suggests a few stronger conclusions. If we believe that New Zealand is likely to face a price on carbon emissions in the future, explicit or otherwise, then when making decisions with long-term consequences New Zealanders should focus on responses that will decrease long term global agricultural greenhouse gas emissions while improving global food security. These responses will be characterised by significant international engagement and co-operation, and a focus on mitigation technology development. We will want to develop effective, efficient, socially acceptable ways to control agricultural greenhouse gas emissions so that other countries will emulate us.  The key characteristic of these responses will be integrity; successful responses will focus on long-term global goals, rather than attempting to appeal to international consumers or regulators in the short term.

A second conclusion is also clear: there is an opportunity to broaden the consensus for addressing agricultural emissions by focussing on outcomes other than climate change. New Zealanders are motivated to take actions that will affect agricultural emissions for a wide range of reasons, and not only because they personally care about helping New Zealand meet international emissions commitments or reducing the risk of climate change. For example, many New Zealanders will be more motivated to act to improve local water quality or agricultural profitability. Given that issues such as these can be addressed in a way that will have complementary effects on greenhouse gas emissions, focussing on these issues may be a more effective way to build consensus for action than focussing exclusively on climate change.

The full paper can be found on the Motu website - click here

Thursday, 3 November 2011

A Farmer's View

Posted on behalf of Sally Lee. Sally farms sheep and beef in West Waikato, is an agricultural consultant, and a member of the AgDialogue group. You can follow what Sally is up to at

I accepted the offer of joining the AgDialogue group to broaden my own knowledge on agricultural emissions  and to have some say, if possible, on the future of the ETS on NZ farmers and NZers as a whole. The group is made up of people whom I am beginning to understand more, and who, outside of this group, I would probably never have gotten the opportunity to meet. I hope that this group will be able to inflict some positive change and stimulate understanding of rural concerns to non-rural politicians and others as we progress through this debate.

As a sheep and beef farmer and a consultant to the pastoral industry, my underlying feeling is that I am opposed to the Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) for NZ agriculture in any shape or form.

With the mass of information in the media about the Emissions Trading Scheme, it is extremely easy to get confused.  My belief it that as it stands now, the ETS is purely a tax on farmers collected at the processor level.  There is absolutely no incentive for farmers to change what they are doing on farm, apart to make the extra margin in their bottom line to pay the tax.  Farmers, as with other NZers, are already paying through the use of fuel and energy. Should we be paying again?

However, I am slowly coming to the realisation that the ETS will exist in some form, although maybe not as we currently know it.  So, what should farmers be doing?

As a hill country farmer, it has been suggested that the solution to our emissions is planting pine trees.  I have seen communities in the past lost forever through the planting of mass areas of pine trees and am a little cynical about the long term solution they offer. Also, as an individual farmer, you still require the upfront capital or a joint venture to turn tree planting into reality, this can be limiting especially after the difficult years we have had as drystock farmers. Also, if we take out large blocks of land, regardless of contour or slope, we will reduce our ‘protein’ production which is currently purchased by NZers and international markets. The result of this could be that, yes, NZ may have reduced its emissions, but this food production will be replaced by some other country (with the accompanying emissions), with no net world emissions decrease.

Instead, I believe that many of the answers to the ETS are about good farming practice and improving efficiency on farm.  The obvious way to reduce emissions is to reduce your stocking rate, however, if this is not managed well it can lead to reduced income, and as farmers we would be no better off. Efficiency can also come in the form of improved lambing and calving percentages, better growth rates, and improved pasture production and utilisation. This is known as Best Practice Management. However, this is not new science/technology and many farmers have still not adapted to this way of farming. Why not?  What do we have to do differently to incentivise change? I recently returned from the first national conference on biological farming systems where there were a number of questions raised as to what role a biological system might have in our emissions.

Also, if we are going to go down this ETS path, then what is the country and the world prepared to pay for our produce?  Farmers can’t keep farming with rising costs and red tape.  With the demise of farmers, there are a number of other consequences that NZ must consider. We might achieve our environmental and financial goals, but this might come at the expense of social sustainability. Other important issues include whether NZ can afford to look at ETS in isolation, or should it be incorporating other issues such as water quality and quantity, ecosystems, carbon footprinting, etc.?

Overall, I feel that NZ farmers should not be targeted. Agriculture contributes a large portion of NZ’s GDP and when agriculture does well, so does the country.  Therefore, I believe that NZ needs to pitch in and deal with the problem as a whole. We as NZ should take the bull by the horns and be a world leader – but we need the support of all, and can’t just target agriculture.